The attacks on the new English Missal are the last expiring gasp of the ‘Spirit of Vatican II’

American bishops study a draft of the new translation in 2005 (CNS photo)

I didn’t intend, until I saw this week’s print edition of the paper (and incidentally, if you don’t take the paper, either online or in print, you should; this homepage gives no more than a taste of what you could have: it’s worth the price of the paper for the columnists alone – do it in two minutes by clicking on to the little square in the right-hand column) to say any more for a week or two about the new translation of the Mass, which we will all be using in church from September. I have made my views clear enough. I think that the new translation is wholly successful, and that if we had been using it from day one, thousands of people repelled by the banality of the ICEL translation now being superseded would still be regular worshippers rather than lapsed Catholics. I really believe it’s as important as that.

I return to the subject, however, inspired by this week’s splash headline: “Battle begins over new Roman Missal.” Now, I have written enough splash headlines myself to know that their purpose is not (mainly, at least) to convey accurate information, but to capture the attention of potential readers. This one certainly attracted mine: but of course, what one has then to do is to read the story to find out what’s actually going on.
The point is that there has already been a huge battle over this (which the good guys won), a battle which began when Pope John Paul published Liturgiam Authenticam, a document which made it clear that Mass translations in future should be faithful to the Latin text (not theologically and devotionally emasculated like the English translation currently in use) and then appointed a commission called Vox Clara, under the chairmanship of Cardinal the great and good George Pell, to make sure that this happened. A new chairman and secretary of ICEL (the International Committee on English in the Liturgy) were also appointed, and all seemed set fair.

But there had been an almighty struggle, the extent of which became clear when the retiring chairman of ICEL, Bishop Maurice Taylor of Galloway, made an astonishing attack on the new dispensation, in which he complained bitterly that “the members of ICEL’s episcopal board have, in effect, been judged to be irresponsible in the liturgical texts that they have approved over the years. The bishops of the English-speaking conferences, voting by large majorities to approve the vernacular liturgical texts prepared by ICEL, have been similarly judged. And the labours of all those faithful and dedicated priests, religious, and lay people who over the years devoted many hours of their lives to the work of ICEL have been called into question.”
Well, of course, he was dead right. The bishops who approved these awful texts had indeed, thank God, at long last been judged and found wanting. And so had the labours of all those “faithful” (but not to the texts they were translating) priests, religious and lay people who over the years had indeed (sniff, sniff) devoted many hours of their lives to undermining the real meaning of the Novus Ordo, leading many to suppose wrongly that the Church had now as good as protestantised the Mass. (Whatever else you say, the English Mass we have is by the skin of its teeth a valid Catholic rite: it just doesn’t, sometimes, seem much like it.)
The fact is that the “battle” now beginning over the introduction of the new translation is little more, by comparison with the warfare of the past few years, than a final skirmish, virtually over before it has started. It is, quite openly, the last gasp of those whose watchword has been “The Spirit of Vatican II” (“Spirit”, in quotes, rather than reality), the final faltering assault of the hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture. But these people have already lost. If you doubt that, have a look at the comments below last week’s online story headlined: “Irish priests claim new Mass translation is ‘elitist and sexist’.” In the end there were 124 comments on this story, all except a handful from outraged lay people hotly rejecting the complaints of these Leftist and anti-Roman priests. One of them was from me. My comment simply was: “The instant, massive and almost unanimous hostility these elitist dissidents – who ludicrously complain about the elitism of the new translation – have aroused (see below), from the people in the pews who have suffered at their hands for 30 years, says it all. What a massive own goal their ‘urgent plea’ has turned out to be.” Another of those who responded simply but eloquently asked: “Why can’t these priests do what Rome wants, we did not have these problems in the past… it’s getting like they used to say about the Anglicans and probably still do, a Pope in every pulpit.” Well, indeed; but the good news is that the tide has now turned: these dissident priests are ageing and on the way out. If we keep our nerve, we are virtually there: we shall overcome.